For those of typical means, ultra-luxury automakers like Bentley exist in a vacuum. We see an M3’s worth of options on a Flying Spur and scoff at something so preposterous, so alien to our understanding of a dollar’s value.
It’s true enough that the law of diminishing returns tends to really kick in when MSRPs soar into six-figure territory and beyond: Is a Bugatti Chiron 50 times better than a C8 Corvette? Probably not. But years ago, when I was handed the keys to my first Bentley press car, I approached the prospect with a similar mindset and came away a changed man.
If you detected a whiff of sarcasm in that headline, your nose wasn’t off. Yes, style and beauty is entirely subjective, but the range-topping Bentley Bentayga has never found itself at the top of any writer’s sexiest-dressed list.
And that’s okay! It’s big, it’s bold, and it sells, so Bentley naturally loves anything that generates profits in a market quickly shying away from traditional body styles. Still, better is always possible, so the marque took the Bentayga to the plastic surgeon.
While some degree of valueless virtue signaling accompanied the launch of Toyota’s Prius, most hybrid customers are an exceptionally practical lot. Fixated on the long game, they’re willing to weigh the added cost of supplemental electrification against an uptick in efficiency — attempting to calculate the duration of ownership required before they can start raking in the savings. However, the math doesn’t always work out like you’d think.
Recently assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid may not be the model for high-end customers looking to maximize their fuel economy. According to Green Car Reports, which obsessively tracks all things electric, Bentley’s Hybrid is actually less efficient on the highway and boasts a shorter maximum range than its V8 alternative.
Bentley Motors’ initial attempt at an SUV did wonders for its volume. While its status as an automaker catering exclusively to the rich keeps annual production totals exceptionally low, the Bentayga now accounts for almost half of its total output. After the model’s introduction in 2016, the Bentley’s annual deliveries shot up 33 percent in Europe.
That wasn’t a coincidence.
Ever since Porsche’s massive success with the Cayenne (introduced in 2002, if you can believe it), super-premium marques have been hunting for a way to make expensive crossovers work equally well for them. If you’re seeking supportive evidence, look no further than the Lamborghini Urus, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Aston Martin DBX, or Ferrari Purosangue. Bentley’s Bentayga also qualifies, though the company has a slight lead over the field, giving it the opportunity continue capitalizing on the segment by introducing another model — just like Porsche did with the Macan.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Bentley is not Chevrolet. The British luxury automaker’s executive suite does not spend its time searching for the thinnest sliver of white space in the brand’s lineup, eager to find a home for a new utility model.
Thus, the Bentayga — an SUV boasting questionable styling that debuted in 2016 — will continue on as the brand’s sole utility vehicle, its CEO says. For now, at least, Bentley has no interest in fleshing out its go-anywhere-in-style lineup.
Bentley touts the 2019 Bentayga Speed as the fastest production SUV ever to grace planet Earth with its presence. However, the claim is actually a little white lie.
The performance Bentayga’s 190 mph top speed technically ties it with the Lamborghini Urus, which also uses the MLBevo platform and is slightly faster to 60 mph. Of course, there are many things in the Bentley you won’t find in the Lambo. The British SUV benefits from an almost grotesque amount of luxury and an available 6.0-liter W12 rocking 626 bhp with 664 lb-ft of torque. Meanwhile, the Urus has to make due with its little 4.0-liter V8 and superior acceleration.
Alright, so we’re giving Bentley a hard time for making a pretty bold claim. But you can’t say you’re the fastest when it’s not demonstrably true and not expect some good-natured ribbing.
The top end of the automotive market is home to surprising levels of competitiveness, even among brands traditionally seen as staid and reserved. Rolls-Royce fits this description, though the maker of opulent drawing rooms on wheels isn’t one to back down from a schoolyard scrap (as we saw earlier this year following some mild trash talk from Aston Martin-owned Lagonda).
Bentley, the rival-turned-family-member-turned-rival-again, has always positioned itself as the sportier alternative to Rolls-Royce, so it’s only natural that the lads in Crewe are planning a response to their competitor’s introduction of an ultra-lux SUV. Sure, the Cullinan pampers its occupants until they develop gout, but can it pull out their remaining hair follicles through sheer speed?
Making good on a statement made a year ago, Bentley will show a plug-in hybrid variant of its cross-eyed uniquely styled Bentayga at March’s Geneva Motor Show. This continues its expansion of a model that is already built with a 6.0-liter W12 and, in some markets, a 4.0-litre diesel V8. A gasoline-fuelled V8 is apparently on tap, too.
This will mark the first electrified vehicle for the luxury brand, one better known for bespoke interiors than batteries and kilowatts. Going forward, though, there’s an increasingly excellent chance that electrons will spread like wild kudzu across the model range.
Everyone needs an SUV. That’s the mantra in today’s automotive market, and it’s not solely applicable to consumers.
Jaguar, an automaker that’s traditionally sold sedans and grand touring coupes, has seen its sales skyrocket atop an F-Pace emblazoned missile. Also from England, the Bentley Bentayga sports a fascia only a mother could love. Yet, it seems Bentley has found a number of maternal mothers with deep, offshore bank accounts more than willing to adopt Crewe’s latest offspring, resulting in 56 percent of Bentley’s total U.S. sales coming from its new SUV in August, the Bentayga’s first month on sale.
But those are established, luxury automakers. Surely, a small, single-model automaker can buck the SUV trend if its plan is to offer a limited number of models.
Or maybe it’s more important that it offers an SUV to its deep-pocketed clientele.
Mercedes-Benz began selling the ML in 1997. Seemingly more of a stretch, along came the BMW X5 two years later.
Then Porsche, not just a luxury carmaker but the preeminent German sports car builder, pulled the same stunt with the Cayenne in 2003. The move doesn’t seem so crazy now that Porsche produces 60 percent of its U.S. sales by way of the Cayenne and its little brother, the Macan.
Indeed, there were no surprises when earlier this year, in one fell swoop, the F-Pace became Jaguar’s best-selling model in its first month on the market, outselling the newly re-launched XF and the brand new XE right from the start.
But can the same strategy be replicated further upmarket? Much further upmarket, at a $232,000 price point? At a brand which suffered a 46-percent year-over-year sales decline in 2016’s first seven months?
Most definitely. The Bentayga is to Bentley what the Cayenne became to Porsche, what the F-Pace has already become at Jaguar. Only more so.